Law Schools May Play a Role in Building Healthy Work-Life Balance
The legal industry has long dealt with exhausting hours and high burnout rates. A recent study found that lawyers work an average of 53 hours per week.
And while law firms have a responsibility to prioritize work life balance, experts say that change ultimately starts at the law school level. Jonathan Todres, a professor of law at Georgia State University College of Law, recently discussed how law schools can and should play a role in building a healthier legal profession.
“Law school is where the next generation of lawyers is first taught the expectations and culture of the legal profession, and the nonstop work culture of law school is harming our profession,” Todres writes. “Sure, some fondly remember law school as a less hectic time. Too often, however, the lesson law schools impart is that students should expect to sacrifice personal happiness, well-being, and other aspects of life to complete their work.”
EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING PLAYS A ROLE
Experiential learning has grown at many law schools over the years. The experiential method encourages active learning and application of lessons in real-world settings. But Todres says that the push for experiential learning has inadvertently created more pressure for students.
“Many faculty now have students complete experiential exercises throughout the semester instead of relying solely on a final exam,” Todres writes. “These changes have value. From drafting legal documents to participating in mock negotiations, experiential learning can help develop skills and produce more practice-ready graduates. But their costs include further taxing students. When multiplied across the curriculum, at some point, it can be too much.”
It’s one thing for law schools to encourage self-care, but it’s another thing from them to instill self-care into their school’s culture.
“Law schools need to forge a culture in which self-care is not only possible but also valued,” Todres writes. “How law schools ensure better work-life balance could take different forms. It might include creating genuine breaks for students, better coordinating assignments across the curriculum, or other steps that create space for a healthy balance. What I do know is that when I have given students a break, they come back happier, reenergized, and more invested in their work.”
Prioritizing self-care, Todres says, is something that needs to start at the law school level.
“To genuinely support that learning, law schools must prioritize the development of healthy lawyers who serve their clients and communities without sacrificing the rest of their lives,” Todres writes. “In short, in law school and practice, we can value hard work without expecting people to live unhealthy lives.”